As Utah prepares for the fallout from its new law giving priority to state education measures over federal No Child Left Behind regulations, a Hispanic advocacy group last week filed a related civil rights complaint over the quality of schools in the state.
The Salt Lake City-based Raza Political Action Coalition, or Raz-Pac, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights, demanding an investigation into the achievement gap between Utah’s minority students and their white peers.
The complaint was one of several incremental developments in Utah and Connecticut that were part of ongoing controversies in those states around the 3-year-old No Child Left Behind Act.
On April 28, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, announced that he would form an achievement-gap task force to study disparities in Utah between minority and white students.
Then on May 2, Gov. Huntsman signed the controversial measure declaring that Utah education laws take priority over the federal law. The action could ultimately put at risk some $76 million in federal funding for the state. (“Utah Lawmakers Pass Bill Flouting NCLB,” April 20, 2005.)
In a prelude to Raz-Pac’s complaint, the group’s president, Robert Gallegos, wrote in an April 18 letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings that the Utah Office of Education failed to properly break down data that would have shown an “alarming dropout rate of ethnic students.”
Mr. Gallegos also wrote that he was concerned that the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students, or U-PASS, which Utah is trying to implement, does not contain the same accountability provisions for minority students that are in the federal education law.
“We do not support Utah’s wanting to ‘disregard’ the [federal] law’s accountability system in favor of Utah’s own system, which is one of the weakest in the country,” Mr. Gallegos wrote.
Timothy A. Bridgewater, Gov. Huntsman’s education deputy, wrote in an e-mail last week that the governor’s task force would be “designed to focus on successful models for improving low-income and underperforming minority subgroups’ proficiency levels.”
On another NCLB front, Secretary Spellings told Connecticut’s top education official last week that the state should be able to carry out the law’s testing mandates with current federal aid.
The statement responded to claims by Connecticut officials that the state must spend $8 million of its own money to implement the law’s requirement to test students in grades 3-8. Connecticut now administers statewide assessments in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has said he plans to sue the federal Education Department over the legislation, which represents, he contends, an unfunded mandate.(“Connecticut Pledges First State Legal Challenge to NCLB Law,” April 13, 2005.)
In a May 3 letter to Connecticut Commissioner of Education Betty J. Sternberg, Secretary Spellings wrote that the state’s estimated cost of carrying out the testing provisions of the NCLB law was based on a more extensive testing regime than the law requires. She noted, for example, that Connecticut tests students in writing, which isn’t mandated by the law.
“While these decisions are instructionally sound, they do go beyond what was contemplated by NCLB,” Ms. Spellings wrote.
She also affirmed her earlier decision not to grant the state’s request to waive the law’s testing requirements for grades 3-8.
Ms. Sternberg countered, “They’re asking a state that’s ahead of the curve to fall back to a minimal level.”